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Radio Frequency Identification (RFID)

From lawbrain.com

RFID is a wireless communication system used for tracking purposes.



Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) is a wireless technology that communicates stored information held on a "tag" and accessed by a "reader".  This technology is used primarily for tracking purposes, although other uses have recently been implemented, such as identification.

RFID technology was sparked during World War II with the development of IFF (Identification, friend or foe) systems.  IFF system was used by the military to identify "friendly" aircraft, as previously it was impossible to distinguish aircrafts from being either friend and foe.[1]  RFID technology continued to develop.  In the 1960s the technology developed into electronic article surveillance (EAS) systems[2], still used today to prevent shoplifting from stores.  In the 1970s, RFID technology was developed for livestock tracking.  Building RFID technology to collect road tolls was implemented during the 1980s and continued to spread worldwide throughout the 1990s.  Standards were created and RFID technology exploded into the 21st century.  RFID technology is now used practically everywhere for a variety of purposes.[3][4]


During the 1970s, RFID technology began to be used to track and take inventory of livestock.  This was especially useful for ranches that had thousands of head of livestock that it needed to keep track of, especially for purposes like vaccination. RFID tracking continues to be used for livestock, but has expanded its usage to include inventory tracking too.



Libraries have begun to utilize the technology of RFID.  RFID tagging allows library items to be checked-in or checked-out at expedited speeds.  Rather than scanning the barcode of each individual item, the RFID reader is able to read the information from a stack of items and process the information in a matter of seconds.  This reduces the time and resources spent on this inventory process.

Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG)

Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), items that are regularly purchased from a store, can be found to have RFID tags attached to products.  RFID tags can be found on the bottom of individual boxes for eye drops or even deodorant.  Pretty much any packaged item will have a RFID tag attached to it.  These tags are used by the distributors and stores to track inventory at a quick and highly accurate rate.


Clothing is a newer area using RFID technology.  Once again, the RFID tags are scanned by distributors and stores for inventory purposes.  The use of this technology streamlines the inventory process.  Certain clothing brands have implemented the use of RFID tagging for a while now, while stores, like Walmart, are just beginning to roll out RFID systems that take inventory of its holdings, even clothes.[5]



The REAL ID Act was tacked on as a rider to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act for Defense, the Global War on Terror, and Tsunami Relief in 2005.[6] The REAL ID Act creates a de facto national identification card for the U.S.  The act established new national standards, both technological and verification procedures, for state-issued driver's licenses and non-driver identification cards to be accepted by the federal government for official purposes, such as boarding commercially-operated airline flights, entering federal buildings and nuclear power plants.

Driver's License

Drivers licenses with radio frequency identification chips have been rolled out in various states.  One of the benefits of these "enhanced" cards is that they can be used to travel across the border into Canada and Mexico without a passport.[7]


New U.S. passports follow the requirements laid out by the REAL ID Act.  These passports utilize RFID chips to hold personal information on the passport owner.  The information held on the RFID chip consists of: name, nationality, gender, date of birth, place of birth, and a digitized photograph.[8]  The data is encrypted, but there is the possibility of such encryption being hacked and the personal information being exposed.[9]  This vulnerability is most prevalent when the passport is open.  The cover of the passport actually provides some amount of protection against individuals trying to skim information off the passport.[10]

Hotel "Card Keys"

Card keys used by hotels, nowadays, utilize RFID technology.  The information on the card (name and credit card information) is read by the door's reader which allows entry into the hotel room.  This is usually connected to information found on the database held at the front desk of the hotel.

ID Badge

Many companies, especially those who are in the technology and medical fields, use identification badges that usually have the name and photo of the employee.  These cards have RFID tags which allow the employee to access restricted areas by swiping the identification badge in front of a reader.  The information on the badge triggers the employee's ability to access into that restricted area.


Many animal humane societies automatically place radio frequency identification tags (they call it a microchip) under the skin of animals adopted from their establishments.  The tag contains registration information (owner contact information) which can be convenient if the animal's collar is lost.[11]


RFID tags/chips have been implanted in humans for various reasons.  These tags usually contain certain amounts of personal information about the individual.


In 2004, 18 members of the Mexican Attorney General's staff were implanted with RFID tags.  These tags were implanted so that staff members could be identified by the security system and allow these individuals access to both restricted locations and information.[12]


Recently, the idea of cellphones being used to make purchases has arose.  Cellphones would be equipped with RFID tags that could be swiped near a reader at a place of business.  Data, both credit card and bank account information could be accessed to pay for a purchase.  Tests are currently underway to determine whether this will be a viable development.[13]


The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved implantable RFID tags developed by Verichip in 2004.[14]  These RFID chips, placed under the skin of the upper arm of an individual, contain both personal and health information about that individual.  The idea of using tags to identify humans came during the September 11th attacks, when firefighters were writing their badge numbers on their arms in case they needed to be identified later.[15]

Privacy Issues

Despite the usefulness of RFID technology, there is a real concern about privacy.  RFID tags contain information which have the possibility of being captured for nefarious intentions or even direct marketing schemes.[16][17]  The biggest problem with regard to privacy is the fact that Radio frequency identification innovation continues to grow in leaps and bounds, with privacy as an afterthought.


  1. http://www.rfidjournal.com/article/view/1338/1
  2. http://www.aimglobal.org/technologies/eas/
  3. http://www.transcore.com/pdf/AIM%20shrouds_of_time.pdf
  4. http://autoid.mit.edu/pickup/RFID_Papers/008.pdf
  5. http://www.walletpop.com/blog/2010/07/26/wal-marts-plan-to-use-smart-rfid-tags-sparking-privacy-concerns/
  6. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.uscongress/legislation.109hr1268
  7. http://www.wired.com/gadgetlab/2008/09/new-york-offers/
  8. http://news.cnet.com/RFID-passports-arrive-for-Americans/2100-1028_3-6105534.html
  9. http://cacm.acm.org/magazines/2009/12/52836-a-threat-analysis-of-rfid-passports/fulltext#R1
  10. http://www.rfidnews.org/2008/05/30/understanding-rfid-part-9-rfid-privacy-and-security
  11. http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/microchips.html
  12. http://www.spychips.com/press-releases/mexican-implant-correction.html
  13. http://theweek.com/article/index/205677/cell-phones-the-new-credit-cards
  14. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/491994
  15. http://www.zdnet.co.uk/news/emerging-tech/2004/07/28/rfid-tags-may-be-implanted-in-patients-arms-39161907/
  16. http://www.rfidgazette.org/2005/03/rfid_privacy_is.html
  17. http://epic.org/privacy/rfid/

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